X-ray Vision

When it rains in Saudi Arabia, says Abdulsalam Alhawsawi, "we say that the gates of the skies are open." (Photo: Karl Maasdam)

November 3, 2009

Oregon rain and tall grass surprised the student from Madinah

By Celene Carillo 

In Brief

Following the advice of mentors at home in Saudi Arabia, Abdulsalam Alhawsawi came to Oregon State University to master a technical area of study: radiation health physics. His dream to protect public health reflects OSU's commitment to expand its international reach through INTO-OSU.  

Abdulsalam Alhawsawi comes from a family of high achievers. His father was an Arabic language instructor at The Islamic University in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. His eldest brother is a pilot. Another brother is an organ transplant surgeon in New York City. Alhawsawi is continuing the family tradition; on his way to becoming a radiation safety specialist, he is getting a master's degree at Oregon State University.

In retrospect, coming to OSU's nationally ranked Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics was a natural choice. Three of his professors at King Abdulaziz University (KAU) are OSU graduates and are now leaders in the field in Saudi Arabia. And after getting his bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering, Alhawsawi spent two years working as KAU's radiation safety officer. His supervisor recommended that he continue his education at OSU.

No Harm

Alhawsawi is mindful of the need for radiation experts in his country. "People don't know much about radiation in Saudi Arabia," he says. "In my program, I'm learning to design the rooms that house X-ray machines and radio isotopes. And I make sure people are not harmed inside or outside, both the public and employees."

Before he came to Corvallis, Alhawsawi had been accepted into the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, which funds high-achieving Saudi students to study abroad and then to apply their new skills at home. To enter OSU, he applied and was accepted into Oregon State's English Language Institute (ELI).

Tall Grass

ELI has become part of INTO-OSU, a new university partnership that recruits international students to the university. This fall, INTO-OSU welcomed about 250 new students from all over the world: China, the Middle East, Russia and Vietnam.

When Alhawsawi arrived at Oregon State in late March, he was struck by the landscape. "It was so green. And I couldn't believe I was seeing the things I saw in cartoons when I was young, like cows in big green fields with grass up to their necks. I didn't think things like that could exist. Or all the different types of trees and animals here," he says.

Alhawsawi started taking English classes through ELI in preparation for classes in the fall. While he found them to be well organized, it was an OSU professor who made the real difference. Chris Bell, member of the INTO transition team, guided Alhawsawi in both academics and living arrangements. "He was like a big brother to me, showing me where to go," says Alhawsawi. "I was lucky enough to meet him when I first came to Corvallis. He showed me all the possible ways to combine my health physics major with management, which I will probably do. I will always be grateful to him."

Gates of the Skies

In his spare time, Alhawsawi has gotten to know the university and the surrounding area. He works out at the Dixon Recreation Center and plays soccer with friends. Don Johnson, assistant director at the Memorial Union, has advised him on leadership activities. In his spare time, he likes to hang out with friends at McMenamin's or 101.

He even likes the rain. "We don't have rain in Saudi Arabia, so when we do, we say that the gates of the skies are open. I love that it rains so much here," he says.

Alhawsawi is looking forward to the future - both taking classes and getting to know the United States. And ultimately he wants to make a difference at home. "I've always loved physics," he says. "I am excited to start my program and have a job that will help people."

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